I joined Gandhi’s movement in 1920 and gave up my education. Although I had passed my final examination-B.A.-I gave it up and did not appear.
In 1914 the war came, and many Indians enlisted in the fight on behalf of their ruler, Great Britain. Abhay saw British airplanes landing on the racetrack in Maidan Park, and the newspaper told him of the war, but he was not directly affected. In 1916 he began college.
There were two prestigious colleges in Calcutta: Presidency and Scottish Churches’. Abhay entered Scottish Churches’ College. It was a Christian school but well reputed amongst the Bengalis, and many Vaiṣṇava families sent their sons there. The professors, most of whom were priests in the Church of Scotland, were known as sober, moral men, and the students received a good education. It was a proper and respectable institution, and since it was in north Calcutta and not far from Harrison Road, Gour Mohan could keep Abhay at home.
Gour Mohan had long ago decided that he would not allow Abhay to go to London and in the name of education become exposed to the corruption of the West. He wanted Abhay to be a pure devotee of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and Lord Kṛṣṇa. Yet on the other hand, Gour Mohan didn’t want to give up his son to become the brahmacārī disciple of a guru. Where was such a qualified guru to be found? His experience of yogīs and swamis had not inspired such confidence. He wanted his son to keep all the principles of spiritual life, yet he also knew that Abhay would have to marry and earn a livelihood. Under the circumstances, enrolling Abhay in Scottish Churches’ College was the most protection Gour Mohan knew to give his son.
The college had been founded by the Reverend Alexander Duff, a Christian missionary who had gone to Calcutta in 1830. A pioneer in getting Indians to appreciate European civilization, the Reverend A. Duff had first founded the General Assembly Institution, for “propagation of the gospel through education, at once liberal and religious, on Western principles and with English as the medium of instruction in the higher classes.” Later he had founded the College of the Church of Scotland and in 1908 had amalgamated both institutions as Scottish Churches’ College.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: We respected our professors as our fathers. The relationship between the students and the professors was very good. The vice-chancellor, Professor W. S. Urquhart, was a perfect and kindhearted gentleman, with whom we sometimes joked.
In my first year I studied English and Sanskrit, in my second year Sanskrit and philosophy. Then philosophy and economics. Another professor was J. C. Scrimgeour. He was professor of English literature. While teaching English literature he would give parallel passages from Bankim Chandra Chatterji. “Yes, yes,” he would say, “your Bankim Bābū says like this.” He had studied Bankim’s literatures, and he compared Bankim Chandra Chatterji to Walter Scott. In those days, Dickens and Sir Walter Scott were two very great English literary men. So he taught us those novelists, and the relationship was very nice.
Abhay became a member of the English Society and would recite Keats, Shelley, and other poets to his classmates. As a member of the Sanskrit Society, he recited the Gītā, and some of his fellow students especially noted how eloquently he recited the Eleventh Chapter, describing the universal form of Kṛṣṇa. He also played soccer and took part in theatrics.
Amritlal Bose, a famous organizer and director of theater in Bengal, rehearsed Abhay and a group of his classmates in a drama from the life of Lord Caitanya. Since Caitanya līlā was available in the public theater for half a rupee, Mr. Bose argued, what was the need for an amateur production? And his answer was, “They should appreciate your performance of Lord Caitanya so much that after seeing it they will agree never to sin.”
The eminent director was volunteering his service and training these boys, but on one condition: they would not perform publicly unless he said the production was perfect. For more than a year, Abhay and the others rehearsed the Caitanya play, until finally their director allowed them to stage a public performance. Abhay, playing the part of Advaita Ācārya, noticed that many people in the audience were crying. At first he could not understand why, but then he realized that because the players had been well trained and because they were sincere, the audience was moved. That was Abhay’s first and last dramatic performance.
Abhay’s psychology teacher, Professor Urquhart, gave evidence that woman’s brain weighed less than man’s. His economics professor lectured on Marshall’s theory that family affection is the impetus for economic development. In Sanskrit Abhay used a text by Rowe and Webb that described Sanskrit as the mother of all languages.
While studying Kālīdāsa’s Kumāra-sambhava in Sanskrit, Abhay was impressed by Kālīdāsa’s explanation of the word dhīra, which means “undisturbed,” or “self-controlled.” According to Kālīdāsa, once long ago Lord Śiva was sitting in deep meditation. Because the demigods were at war with the demons, they wanted a commander in chief born from the semen of Lord Śiva, so the demigods sent a beautiful young girl, Pārvatī, to interrupt his meditation. Although Pārvatī worshiped Lord Śiva and even touched his genitals, he was not disturbed. His resistance to temptation was the perfect example of being dhīra.
As at other British-run schools in India, all the European teachers at Scottish Churches’ had to learn the local language. Once Professor Urquhart walked past Abhay and a group of students as they were eating some peanuts and talking together. One of the students, speaking in Bengali, made a joke at Professor Urquhart’s expense. To their surprise, Professor Urquhart immediately turned to the jokester and answered in Bengali, and Abhay and the others felt ashamed.
Bible study was compulsory. The Bible Society had issued each student a beautifully bound Bible, and each morning everyone gathered for scripture reading, prayers, and hymns.
One of the professors criticized the Vedic teachings of karma and transmigration of the soul. In a court of law one cannot be prosecuted for a crime unless there is a witness. Similarly, he argued, although according to Hindus the soul suffers in his present life for the misdeeds of his past life, where is the witness to these misdeeds? Abhay was displeased to hear this criticism, and he knew how to refute it, but being only a student he had remained silent. Socially he was inferior, and a student had little scope to challenge a professor. But he knew that the professor’s argument against karma was insubstantial; he knew there was a witness.
Some of the students, having come to Calcutta from small villages, viewed the big city and the presence of so many Europeans with bewilderment and timidity. But to Abhay, Calcutta and the British were not alarming, and he even held a certain fondness for his Scottish teachers. Although he looked up to them with a mixture of awe, distance, and some tension, he admired their moral uprightness and their gentlemanly, courteous behavior with the boys. They seemed to him kindhearted.
The governor of Bengal, who was Scottish, once came to Scottish Churches’ College, visiting all the classrooms. The rooms were large, holding 150 students, but Abhay had a front-row seat and got a close look at the famous governor, the Marquis of Zetland.
The school operated on the principle of strict social distance between Europeans and Indians. Even the Bengali faculty members, being of a supposedly inferior race, had to use a faculty lounge separate from that of the European professors. Part of the college syllabus was England’s Work in India, by M. Ghosh, an Indian. The book elaborately explained how India had been primitive before the British rule. Abhay’s economics professor would sometimes shout at his class when he became frustrated with their slowness. Addressing them as representatives of the whole Indian nation, he would say, “You should never expect independence! You cannot rule! You can only work like asses, that’s all!”
College life was demanding. No longer was Abhay free to spend hours before the Deities of Rādhā and Govinda early in the morning. That had been a boyhood luxury, when he would daily pass hours in the Mulliks’ temple before the golden forms of Rādhā-Govinda, watching the pūjārīs as they worshiped the Deities with incense, flowers, lamps, musical kīrtana, and opulent prasādam. As a child he had played within the grassy compound of the temple or watched the men cooking kacaurīs on the roadside or bicycled or flown his kite with Bhavatarini. His life had always centered on his home at Harrison Road, his mother’s talks, his father’s worshiping Kṛṣṇa. These scenes were now past.
Now he spent his days within the compound of Scottish Churches’ College. Here there was also a lawn and a garden with birds and even a small banyan tree. But instead of worship, there was study. The atmosphere at Scottish Churches’ was academic, and even the casual conversation among the students as they gathered before the notice boards at the main entrance or passed in groups in and out of the main gates was usually about class assignments or collegiate activities.
When Abhay was not actually sitting side by side with his fellow students, sharing a classroom bench before one of the long desks that stood row after row in the lecture hall, when he was not looking attentively forward during the lecture of one of his professors-usually a reverend dressed in a European suit, speaking a Scottish brogue and pronouncing words like duty as “juty”-when he was not actually in the classroom hearing their lectures on Western logic or chemistry or psychology, then he was at his homework assignments, sitting at a table amidst the bookshelves in the college library, reading from an open book or writing notes while the electric fans overhead rippled the pages, or he was at home with his father, sisters, and brothers, but reading his lessons or writing a paper for the reverend in the lecture hall. He had had to abandon worshiping the Kṛṣṇa Deity he had demanded his father give him years before; he had retired his Deities to a closed box.
Gour Mohan was undisturbed that his pet son could no longer attend to all the devotional activities of his childhood. He saw that Abhay was remaining pure in all his habits, that he was not adopting Western ideas or challenging his own culture, and that as a student at Scottish Churches’ College he would not likely be exposed to immoral behavior. Gour Mohan was satisfied to see Abhay getting a good education to prepare for a career after graduation. He would be a responsible Vaiṣṇava; he would soon marry and get a job.
One of Abhay’s classmates and close companions was Rupendranatha Mitra. Abhay and Rupen would study together and sit side by side in the assembly hall during Bible class, uttering the compulsory prayers. Rupen noticed that although Abhay was a serious student, he was never enamored of Western education or ambitious for scholastic achievements. Abhay would confide to Rupen, “I don’t like these things,” and sometimes he spoke of moving away. “What are you thinking?” Rupen would ask, and Abhay would reveal his mind. Rupen found that Abhay was always thinking about “something religious, something philosophical or devotional about God.”
Abhay studied the Western philosophers and scientists, yet they held no fascination for him. After all, they were only speculating, and their conclusions were not in the devotional mood and spirit of the Vaiṣṇava training he had received from his father and the Vedic scriptures. The sudden access to the wealth of Western knowledge, which created in some an appetite to study deeply and in others a desire to get ahead in the world through good grades and career, left Abhay untouched. Certainly within his heart he was always thinking of “something religious, something philosophical or devotional about God,” and yet, as a Scottish Churches’ College man, he gave his time and attention to academic life.
One night, after his first year of college, Abhay had an unusual dream. The Deity of Kṛṣṇa his father had given him appeared to Abhay complaining, “Why have you put Me away in this box? You should take Me out and worship Me again.” Abhay felt sorry that he had neglected his Deity, and he resumed his worship of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa at home, despite his assignments.
* * *
In the class one year ahead of Abhay was a very spirited nationalist, Subhas Chandra Bose. He had been a student at Presidency College but had been expelled for organizing a student strike against a British professor who had repeatedly abused Indian students. At Scottish Churches’, Bose appeared to be a serious student; he was secretary of the Philosophy Club and was working cooperatively with Vice-Chancellor Urquhart. From Subhas Bose and others, Abhay heard talks of Indian independence. He heard the names well known in his native Bengal: Bipinchandra Pal, who had fought to repeal the Arms Act; Surendranatha Bannerjee, who startled the British with his agitation against the 1905 partition of Bengal; Lala Lajpat Rai; and, most notably, Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Scottish Churches’ College was strict in forbidding antigovernment propaganda, but the students were sympathetic to the cause of home rule. Although there were no open signs of rebellion, students sometimes held nationalistic meetings in secret. When Subhas Chandra Bose urged the students to support the Indian independence movement, Abhay listened. He liked Bose’s faith in spirituality, his enthusiasm and determination. Abhay wasn’t interested in political activity, but the ideals of the independence movement appealed to him.
Many Bengali speakers and writers expressed India’s drive for independence (svarāj) as a spiritual movement. For the nationalists, political emancipation was analogous to the soul’s liberation from material bondage. Abhay was interested in devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Absolute Truth, a conviction he had imbibed from his father and maintained since his childhood, whereas Indian independence was a temporary, relative truth. But some of the leaders of svarāj, while admitting that the Vedic scriptures were indeed absolute, asserted that the original glory of Indian culture could not shine forth for the world’s benefit until India became free from the stigma of foreign rule. The foreigners, they pointed out, blasphemed and castigated the preeminence of India’s culture.
Abhay had felt this also. In his assigned reading in M. Ghosh’s England’s Work in India, he had encountered the theory that the Vedic scriptures were impure, recent writings and that India’s had been a spiritually backward culture before British rule and the spread of Christianity. There were many British insults against the śāstras-such as Abhay’s professor’s trying to discount the law of karma. But if India could gain national freedom, then everyone-not only Indians, but the entire world-could benefit from India’s highly evolved Vedic culture.
The call to svarāj, although covert, attracted virtually all the students, and Abhay amongst them. He was especially interested in Gandhi. Gandhi always carried a Bhagavad-gītā; he daily read Lord Kṛṣṇa’s holy words and spoke of being guided by the Gītā above all other books. Gandhi’s personal habits were pure. He abstained from all intoxication, meat-eating, and illicit sex. He lived simply, like a sādhu, yet he seemed to have more integrity than the begging sādhus Abhay had seen so many times. Abhay read his speeches and followed his activities-maybe Gandhi could carry spirituality into the field of action. The Gītā’s truth, Gandhi proclaimed, belonged in a most prominent place, where the Gītā not only could be read but could work for everyone’s freedom. And the symbol of that freedom was svarāj.
Nationalist sympathies at Scottish Churches’ College remained underground during Abhay’s years as a student. It was a prestigious school. A student had to study very seriously to obtain a degree there, and he could then look forward to a fine career. To speak openly against British rule and in favor of independence meant to risk being expelled. To lose education and career-only the most rebellious would dare. So the students met undercover and listened to the revolutionary leaders: “We want svarāj! We want independence! Our own government! Our own schools!”
* * *
Gour Mohan watched his son with concern. He saw Abhay not as one of the hundreds of millions of instruments meant to change India’s political destiny, but as his pet son. His first concern was for Abhay’s welfare. While world events moved across the stage of history, Gour Mohan concentrated on his son’s future as he hoped it would be and as he had always prayed it would be. He was planning for Abhay to become a pure Vaiṣṇava, a devotee of Rādhārāṇī. He had taught Abhay to worship Kṛṣṇa and be pure in character and had arranged for his education. Now Gour Mohan thought of getting him married.
According to the Vedic system, a marriage should be carefully ar ranged by the parents, and it should take place before the girl reaches puberty. Gour Mohan had gotten his first daughter married in her ninth year, his second daughter at twelve years, and his third daughter at eleven. When his second daughter was going on twelve, Rajani had said, “I shall go to the river and commit suicide if you don’t get her married at once.” In the Vedic system there was no courtship, nor was the couple allowed to live together during the first years of their marriage. The young girl would begin serving her husband by cooking for him at her parents’ house and coming before him to serve him his meal or by taking part in some other formal exchange. Then as the boy and girl grew to physical maturity, they would become so lovable to one another that they would be inseparable. The girl would naturally remain faithful to her husband since she would have no association with any other boy as she grew to puberty.
Gour Mohan had many friends in Calcutta with eligible young daughters, and for a long time he had been considering a suitable wife for Abhay. After careful consultation. he finally chose Radharani Datta, the daughter of a suvarṇa-vaṇik family associated with the Mulliks. Radharani was eleven years old. After the meeting between her father and Gour Mohan, both families agreed upon the marriage.
Although Abhay was a third-year college student with no income, it was not uncommon for a student to marry, and he would have no immediate financial responsibilities. Abhay didn’t appreciate his father’s choice of a wife-he had thought of marrying another girl-but in deference to his father he put aside his reluctance. For the time being, he was living with his family and she with hers; so his marital responsibilities of supporting a family would not be immediate. First he had to finish college.
During his fourth year at Scottish Churches’, Abhay began to feel reluctant about accepting his degree. As a sympathizer to the nationalist cause, he preferred national schools and self-government over the British institutions, but he could see that as yet no such alternatives existed. Gandhi, however, was calling on Indian students to forsake their studies. The foreign-run schools, he said, instilled a slave mentality; they made one no more than a puppet in the hands of the British. Still, a college degree was the basis of a life’s career. Abhay weighed the choices carefully.
Gour Mohan didn’t want Abhay to do something he would later regret. He had always tried to plan the best for his son, but Abhay was twenty-three and would have to make this decision for himself. Gour Mohan thought of the future; the horoscope said his son would be a great religious preacher at age seventy, but Gour Mohan did not expect to live to see it. Still, he had every reason to accept the horoscope as accurate, and he wanted to prepare Abhay. He tried to plan things accordingly, but there was no way to guess what Kṛṣṇa would do. Everything depended on Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa was above nationalism, above planning and the laws of astrology, and above the desires of a modest cloth merchant aspiring to make his son a pure devotee of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and a preacher of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Although Gour Mohan had always allowed Abhay to do what he wanted, he had also carefully guided him always on the path he knew was best. Now, without interfering with Abhay’s decision about college, Gour Mohan set about to arrange good employment for him, regardless of what else might happen.
In 1920 Abhay completed his fourth year of college and took the B.A. exam. Afterwards, with the ordeal of final examinations behind him, he took a short vacation. To fulfill a long-cherished desire, he traveled alone a day’s journey by train to Jagannātha Purī.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Every day of my boyhood I used to think, “How to go to Jagannātha Purī?”, and “How to go to Vṛndāvana?” At that time the fare was, for Vrṇdāvana, four or five rupees, and similarly for Jagannātha Purī. So I was thinking, “When shall I go?” I took the first opportunity to go to Jagannātha Purī.
* * *
He walked along the same broad street where for thousands of years the Ratha-yātrā procession had passed. In the market, shops displayed small carved and painted wooden mūrtis of Lord Jagannātha. Although it was not Ratha-yātrā season, tourists were purchasing souvenirs, and in the temple they purchased Jagannātha prasādam. In the Jagannātha temple, fifty-six gigantic offerings of cooked rice and vegetables were presented daily in worship before the deities of Jagannātha, Balarāma, and Subhadrā.
Abhay entered the temple and saw the deities. On a side altar stood the mūrti of Lord Caitanya in His six-armed form, manifesting Himself simultaneously as Kṛṣṇa, Rāma, and the sannyāsī Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya was famous in Purī, where He had spent the last eighteen years of His life, conducting Hare Kṛṣṇa kīrtana with His followers and dancing ecstatically at the yearly Ratha-yātrā as the carts were wheeled along the main road, surrounded by thousands of devotees. Lord Caitanya had danced and swooned in the ecstasy of His intense love in separation from Lord Kṛṣṇa.
Passing over the parade route, Abhay recalled his own childhood pastimes-singing and dancing in the street, the miniature cart, the procession, Jagannātha smiling, his father and mother, Rādhā-Govinda. Somehow the fame of Lord Jagannātha had inspired him as a child, and it had remained within him all these years: “When shall I go to Jagannātha Purī?” His childhood dreaming of Purī and Vṛndāvana and his compulsively studying the train tables, scheming since the age of five to travel here, were based on more than just a desire to tour Purī’s marketplace, and he was not satisfied by once seeing the Deity in the noisy, crowded temple. He had been impelled to come to Purī as a pilgrim, and his motive was his devotion to Kṛṣṇa.
Now nationalism was strongly influencing his life, and he had recently married and was facing the decisions of graduation and career. Yet here he was, hardly more than a boy, walking alone in Purī, where Lord Caitanya had lived and where Lord Kṛṣṇa’s Jagannātha still resided. Abhay relished his break from the pressure of duties in Calcutta. He didn’t know how the love he felt for Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s pilgrimage place would fit into his life. He knew that Kṛṣṇa was more important than anything else-He was God, the supreme controller, and everyone’s inner guide. But there was so much token, superficial service to God. Even the nationalist speakers, although they carried the Gītā on their person, were more intent on nationalism than on Kṛṣṇa. Only those who were sincere devotees knew the importance and attraction of Kṛṣṇa-people like his father.
An odd incident occurred at Purī. Gour Mohan had given Abhay a letter of introduction to an acquaintance who lived in Jagannātha Purī. Abhay went to see him and was well received. When the man was offering him lunch, however, Abhay noticed a small lump within one of the cooking pots. He questioned his host, who replied, “Oh, it is meat.”
Abhay was unable to restrain his shock: “No! What is this! I have never taken meat.” Abhay looked at his host in astonishment: “I never expected this at Jagannātha Purī.”
Ashamed, his host said, “I did not know. I thought this was the best.” Abhay pacified the man, but he put his food aside and took no more meals there. After that, Abhay ate only the Jagannātha prasādam from the temple.
Abhay stayed in Purī for three or four days, wandering around the holy places and visiting the famous Purī seaside, with its sparkling beach and strongly pounding surf. Several times he recognized some of the priests from the Jagannātha temple as they smoked cigarettes, and he heard of other unsavory activities of the sādhus connected with the temple. What kind of sādhus were these who ate fish with their Jagannātha prasādam and smoked? In this respect, he found Jagannātha Purī disappointing.
* * *
When Abhay returned home, he found his young wife crying. Then he heard how her friends had told her. “Your husband is not coming back.” He told her not to worry, there was no truth in the story; he had only gone for a few days and was now back.
Although his marriage had only recently begun, Abhay was dissatisfied. Radharani Datta was an attractive young girl, but Abhay had never really liked her. He was thinking maybe a different wife would be better, a second wife besides this one. In India it was socially acceptable to marry a second wife, so Abhay decided to take the matter into his own hands; he made arrangements to approach the parents of another girl. But when his father heard about it, he called Abhay and said, “My dear boy, you are eager to take a second wife, but I would advise you not to. It is Kṛṣṇa’s grace that your present wife is not to your liking. Take it as a great fortune. If you do not become too attached to your wife and family that will help you in your future advancement in spiritual life.” Abhay accepted his father’s advice; he wanted as obey his father, and he appreciated the saintly viewpoint. But he remained thoughtful, a bit awed by his father’s forethought, and he wondered how one day in the future he would be advancing in spiritual life and be grateful that his father had done this. “Your future advancement in spiritual life”-Abhay liked the idea He reconciled himself to the wife he had been given.
* * *
Abhay Charan De’s name was included on the posted list of students who had passed the B.A. exams and who were invited to appear for their diploma. But Abhay had decided he didn’t want a diploma from Scottish Churches’ College. Although as a graduate he would have a promising career, it would be a British-tainted career. If Gandhi succeeded, India would soon be rid of the British. Abhay had made his decision, and when graduation day arrived, the college authorities learned of his rejecting his diploma. In this way, Abhay registered his protest and signaled his response to Gandhi’s call.
Gandhi’s protest had increased its pitch in recent months. During the war, Indians had remained loyal to the Crown in hopes of generating British sympathy towards the cause of independence. But in 1919 England had passed the Rowlatt Act to repress the move for Indian freedom. Gandhi had then called on all Indians to observe a hartāl, a day in which people all over the country had stayed home from work and school in protest. Although it had been a nonviolent protest, one week later in Amritsar in the public square known as Jallianwalla Bagh, British soldiers shot to death hundreds of unarmed, defenseless Indians who had gathered for a peaceful meeting. Gandhi then lost all faith in the intentions of the empire towards India. Calling for complete noncooperation, he ordered a boycott of everything British-commodities, schools, courts, military honors. And Abhay, in refusing his degree, was moving to align himself more closely with Gandhi’s independence movement.
But his heart was not in it. Just as he had never given his heart to college studies, to earning a degree, to his wife, so he was reserved about becoming a full-fledged nationalist. Abhay had become inclined towards the cause, but never really convinced. Now, out of school, out of work, caring little for his career, education, or wife, he remained at home. He tried his hand at writing poetry for the occasion of a friend’s wedding. He read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the latest speeches of Gandhi. He had no immediate plans.
* * *
Gour Mohan had his plans for Abhay, and the college degree had been an integral part of those plans. But Kṛṣṇa, it seemed, had other plans. The political protest of refusing the Bachelor of Arts degree was more a mark of honor than a social stigma, and Gour Mohan did not reproach his son for it But Abhay still needed to take up some kind of work. Gour Mohan approached his friend Kartick Bose and asked him to employ Abhay.
Dr. Kartick Chandra Bose, an intimate friend, had been the family doctor since Abhay’s childhood. He was a distinguished surgeon, a medical scholar, and a chemical industrialist. He had his own establishment, Bose’s Laboratory, in Calcutta, where he manufactured drugs, soaps, and other products for the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Bose was well known throughout India as the first Indian to manufacture pharmaceutical preparations that had formerly been monopolized by European firms. He agreed to accept Abhay as a department manager at his laboratory.
Although Abhay knew little of the pharmaceutical industry or of management, he felt confident that by reading a few related books he could learn what he needed to know. But when this new young man was suddenly given the post of department manager, several workers became dissatisfied. Some of them were elderly and had been forty years with the firm. They voiced their dissatisfaction amongst themselves and finally confronted Dr. Bose: Why had this young man been put in charge? Dr. Bose replied, “Oh, for that position I needed someone I could trust like my own son. He is signing checks for forty thousand rupees. I could only entrust the personal handling of my accounts in that department to him. His father and I are very close, and this young man is known to me practically as my son.”
Gour Mohan felt he had done his best. His prayer was that the principles of pure Vaiṣṇavism he had taught his son would stay with him and guide him throughout his life. Gandhi and the cause of svarāj had disrupted Abhay’s college career, and Abhay was still inclined towards nationalism, but not so much for a political motive as for a spiritual vision. So Gour Mohan was content. He knew the marriage arrangement was not pleasing to Abhay, but Abhay had accepted his explanation that detachment from wife and family affairs would be good for spiritual advancement. And Abhay was showing an inherent disinterest in materialistic affairs. This also did not displease Gour Mohan, to whom business had always been subservient to his worship of Lord Kṛṣṇa. He had expected this. Now Abhay had a promising job and would be making the best of his marriage. Gour Mohan had done what he could, and he depended on Kṛṣṇa for the ultimate result.
* * *
Gandhi, bolstered by his emergence as a leader among the Congress Party, now openly attacked the empire’s exploitative cloth trade with India. England was purchasing raw cotton from India at the lowest prices, manufacturing it into cloth in the Lancashire mills in England, and then selling the monopolized cloth at high prices to the Indian millions. Gandhi’s propaganda was that India should return to making her own cloth, using simple spinning wheels and handlooms, thus completely boycotting the British-made cloth and attacking an economic base of Britain’s power over India. Traveling by train throughout the country, Gandhi repeatedly appealed to his countrymen to reject all foreign cloth and wear only the simple coarse khādī produced from India’s own cottage industry. Before the British rule, India had spun and woven her own cloth. Gandhi argued that by breaking the cottage industries, the British were sinking the Indian masses into semistarvation and lifelessness.
To set the example, Gandhi himself worked daily at a primitive spinning wheel and wore only a simple, coarse loincloth and shawl. He would hold meetings and ask people to come forth and reject their imported cloth. On the spot, people would throw down heaps of cloth, and he would set it ablaze. Gandhi’s wife complained that the khādī was too thick and not convenient to wear while cooking; she asked if while cooking she could wear the light, British-made cloth. “Yes, you’re free to cook with your mill cloth on,” Gandhi had told her, “but I must exercise a similar freedom by not taking the meal so prepared.”
The cause of cottage industry appealed to Abhay. He, too, was not enamored with the modern industrial advances the British had introduced in India. Not only was simple living good for the long-term national economy of hundreds of millions of Indians, as Gandhi was emphasizing, but to Abhay it was also the way of life most conducive to spiritual culture. Abhay put aside his mill-manufactured cloth and took to wearing khādī. Now his dress revealed him to whomever he met, British and Indian alike. He was a nationalist, a sympathizer of revolution. To wear khādī in India in the early 1920s was not a mere clothing fad; it was a political statement. It meant he was a Gandhian.
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